The May Magpie

I have enjoyed reading about other people’s experiences with fairy of Ireland and wanted to share my story too, although it’s not really about me at all.

In May 1992, I stayed 4 weeks at a Bed & Breakfast in far north Donegal. I won’t trouble you with the reason for my extended stay, suffice to say I departed a better man than had arrived.

windy-landscape-free (2)

I want to tell you about Nora, my host at the B&B. She has been in my thoughts lately, as I have come to realize she probably saved my life.

Nora ran her house with the routine of a drill sergeant and expected absolute courtesy from her guests. She fed me three times a day, insisted I hike at least once a day (regardless of the weather) and dragged more ‘pleases’ and ‘thankyous’ from me in those 4 weeks than my Mom had managed in 20 years! But she was by no means a hard woman. She had a soft spot for troubled souls like me and… she believed in fairies.

I arrived in Donegal in early May. The one month in the year so Nora told me, you are most likely to be stolen or attacked by a fairy. Though I never (knowingly) saw one myself, according to Nora her garden was teeming with them.

She spoke to them, and about them, politely, as though they were distant relations but there was one that caused her constant worry. The May Magpie.magpie-1332420 (2).jpg

According to Nora, a lone magpie in May is a disagreeable fairy in disguise with a mind to cause you harm.

And she had one in her garden.

There it is as every year before,” she said as she set breakfast to the table in the sunroom (which overlooked the garden), “come to test me. I’ll be keeping the cat inside til June now, hope you’re not allergic”.

She had a tight smile on her lips and a keen eye on the magpie as she spoke. “If you slight the May magpie, it will bring a world of trouble to your door the likes you had never known”.

I had to stifle my young self from laughing as Nora assured me she could handle the fairies and knew how to appease the May magpie.

And so, for the next 4 weeks I watched. Every morning, after serving my breakfast, Nora ventured into the garden to greet the waiting May magpie.

She bowed her head in greeting and spoke a familiar word or two.

Good day to you, and isn’t it a fine one?” or “You are looking well yourself” she would say.

And every day after serving my lunch, she would venture back into the garden, make a little small talk and leave a bowl of Guinness for it to drink.

They say there’s a change coming from the West now”.

And would never think of hitting the sack without checking in… “I’m off out after tea, so I’ll bid you goodnight” she once hollered from the backdoor.

One day I even heard her give the May magpie the time, “It’s a quarter past the midday now” she said as she pinned washing on the line.

That lone May magpie, at least for the month of May, was treated as Nora’s most revered and dare I say, feared, guest. I can only wonder what might have happened if Nora had displeased the May magpie for no matter how I tried, she would never venture into that conversation.

I have seen and done many things in my life that are best forgotten, but memories of Nora and her May magpie have never left me. In fact, the words Nora told me back then, ring just as true today.

A kind word goes a long way” she said, “it just wants you to acknowledge it. To say I see you. You have no need to harm me nor I you. Let us live byside each other in peace.That is all we need tell any of the fairies”.

Even now, after all these years, I still think about the fairies in Ireland and still nod my regards to a lone magpie.

Just in case.

Daniel – Philadelphia

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